Challenge 602 Response
Cyrano Meets Charlie Hebdo
with Bertrand Cayzac
“The Chronicle of Belthaeous” begins in issue 602.
In what ways does Rodney Neumann’s and Professor Nacroanus’ discussion resemble the argument in Cyrano de Bergerac’s The Other World, “You Are Whom You Eat”?
Dr. Nacroanus has decided to enable his students with keys to ‘look beyond the limits’ of their minds ‘ensnared in the dogma of conditioning’. Addressing Rodney Neumann specifically, he calls him to self-reliance in order to develop agency, ownership (aye, that sounds like corporate Növlong) and discover a rich, mysterious extended reality.
The Doctor has it that, conversely, ‘clinging to the words and pictures of reality placed over the windows of [one’s] perception’ will only let one ‘depend on whom has the power to make [one] a stranger in [one’s] universe’ and a ‘commodity in [his]’.
Neumann’s conventional objection that ‘Reality is the general consensus of reasonable and intelligent people’ is in my view the main gateway to Cyrano de Bergerac’s lame proof of the existence of God in his dialog with the witty Moon-being:
I won’t bother [...] to recite the self-evident proofs that philosophers have used to establish God’s existence. I would have to repeat everything that reasonable men have ever written about it. I ask you only why you find the belief inconvenient. I’m quite sure you can find no reason. Since it can only be useful, why do you not let yourself be persuaded?
Yes, indeed, conventional wisdom is the common ground on which both the cosmic traveler and the student are arguing. It might be interesting to notice, by the way, that Milton’s Lucifer is a cosmic traveler, too. Dr Nacroanus knows that his speech covers the three main Paradise Lost topoi traversed by Lucifer: ‘order is formed from chaos’ and ‘it’s better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven’ contains them all, since the fallen Angel journeys from Pandemonium, Hell to Paradise, Heaven (yes, I’m thinking of Duluth, Minnesota) via Chaos (France :-).
To some extent, the farcical image taken by the Moon-being to illustrate the transformation of an eaten heathen (terms chosen for the sheer sake of alliteration) into a Christian metabolite can be linked to the fate of alienated beings turned into commodities by the ‘business of conditioning’ established by ‘the conquerors, the elite and the truly intellectually superior’. But this seems far-fetched...
Blessed be the Challenge which lured me into the work: we are now at chapter 3 and I’m longing to read what happens when the heroes trespass the portal to the Cave, very much as I felt when I was reading Tintin and the Temple of the Sun or Tintin in Tibet as a kid, except that the Chronicle of Belthaeous contains all or more than the metaphysics it takes to keep me panting now that I’m (much) older. Thanks.
Thank you, Bertrand, for a very lively and thought-provoking response!
Cyrano — as a model of the libertin (free-thinker) — ironically offers the weakest possible excuse he can think of for religious faith: join the crowd. Of course, that’s no argument at all; it’s sheer intellectual cowardice. Cyrano is deliberately flinging open the door to any rebuttal — take your pick. The Moon-being responds with an argument from materialism, which reduces a literal interpretation of dogma to a ludicrous caricature of itself.
In Belthaeous, Rodney answers Prof. Nacroanus with the same argument as Cyrano’s. But he is not speaking ironically; Rodney is simply admitting that he doesn’t know what else to say. And Prof. Nacroanus responds with an argument from power, namely: Who’s going to be in charge of your life: you or someone else?
“You Are Whom You Eat” — like the rest of The Other World — was cultural dynamite in its time. As a consequence, Cyrano appears to have been seriously wounded when religious fanatics attempted to assassinate him, and he succumbed a year later. In that light, Cyrano de Bergerac and Charlie Hebdo are now brothers in arms, although Cyrano — as a satirist but no anarchist — is far and away their captain.
Copyright © 2015 by Bertrand Cayzac
and Bewildering Stories